Havre Daily News
Over the last two high school tennis seasons, members of the 2006 Havre high girls tennis team have been party to a lot of state championship success.
While the Blue Pony girls teams got agonizingly close to claiming state titles in both 2004 and 2005, they also witnessed the HHS boys team make history by winning fifth- and sixth-consecutive state championships.
But on Saturday in Polson, the Havre High girls tennis team made some history of its own by riding its depth to its first-ever Class A state championship.
The Ponies rode the strength of their doubles teams to score 26 points, easily defeating second-place Whitefish, which scored 22 points. Defending Class A champion Dillon was third with 19 points.
Havre's state title came by way of the entire team, but it was the play of its doubles teams, especially the emergence of its No. 2 team, Karissa Olson and Alexa Lipp, and that of Steph Flatau and Keelie Solomon, that delivered the Ponies their first state championship.
Lipp and Olson surprised the field by reaching the championship match, while Solomon and Flatau battled back from a loss in the semifinals to capture third place. The second and third place finishes, combined with the efforts of sophomore Katie Mariani in singles, was more than enough for Havre to reach the Class A mountaintop.
“I have been saying for the last few weeks that our strength in doubles would be a huge factor, and was it ever,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “You can't say enough about the play of Alexa and Karissa. They just kept beating teams all tournament long and they played some amazing tennis in doing so.
“And Steph and Keelie really cinched it for us,” he added. “They were very disappointed after their loss to Dillon. But they weren't going to let us lose the team title and they bounced back and played like champions do. I am proud of all four of those seniors for the dedication and leadership they showed at the state tournament.”
Lipp and Olson's second-place finish came with a lot of high drama. The duo had to go three sets against Hamilton just to get out of the first round on Thursday morning. Then they upset a highly-favored Polson team in the quarterfinals. For Ferguson, those two wins might have been as much as he or anyone could ask out of a No. 2 doubles team at the state tournament.
On Friday morning, Lipp and Olson came out firing on all cylinders in a three-set semifinal win over Livingston's Eliza Hancock and Hanna Gertiser, a team they had lost to in the Central A divisional semifinals less than a week earlier. Lipp and Olson's run came to an end at the hands of Dillon's Eve Xanthopolous and Theresa Bennett in the state championship match, 6-1, 6-4.
“Alexa and Karissa really proved what hard work and dedication and never giving up can do,” Ferguson said. “All of that sounds pretty cliche but that's how they played at state. It was if they weren't going to be denied no matter who was across the net from them. It was pretty special to be a part of.”
Meanwhile, Flatau and Solomon cruised to the semifinals where they too lost to Xanthopolous and Bennett for a third time this season. Although shrugging off the notion of being denied a doubles state title for the third straight year wasn't easy, the duo played like seniors in the win over Polson,
which mathematically sealed Havre's state title. In their career Solomon and Flatau wound up finishing fourth at state twice (2003 and 2004) and third this season.
“I couldn't be more proud to have coached Steph and Keelie these past three years,” Ferguson said. “What they did this weekend just shows what great teammates and great competitors they are. They were disappointed after the loss to Dillon, but in my eyes they have been the leaders of this team for a long time and they bounced back like leaders do and won us a state championship in the next match. It was only fitting that their point against Polson sealed it for us.”
Havre's first state championship in girls didn't come without some help from singles player Katie Mariani either. The sophomore earned four of Havre's 26 points, including a first-round dismantling of Glendive's Mariah Linn and a grueling three-set marathon victory over Bigfork's Trisha Smith on Friday morning. Mariani reached the consolation semifinals where she fell to Billings Central's Laura Housinger.
“Katie played really well in a loaded singles draw,” Ferguson said. “After the first round, everybody in singles were in battles the rest of the tournament and we couldn't have done what we did as a team without Katie and the way she played. She was very close to being right there on par with all of the top players in the tournament, and I think people are really going to have to watch out for her in the coming years.”
Havre's No. 3 doubles team of Kari Gorder and Kristi Hollingshead played well in their first state
tournament appearance, but lost twice, including becoming the first of three HHS teams to fall victim to Xanthopolous and Bennett over the two-day tournament. Freshman Hope Hedges also lost both her singles matches in her state tournament debut.
“It feels like we have all been chasing this trophy for a long time and it is a great feeling to finally catch up to it and bring it home,” Ferguson said. “I am just so happy for the girls because they have been working towards this goal for a long time and they really deserve it. Even the kids who didn't make it to state are a part of this championship.
“ Friday was a really important and special day for Havre High tennis and for our girls program, and I just have to give all the credit to the kids. They went out on the court and won this tournament and that is the way it was supposed to be,” he added.
While the HHS girls were making history on Friday afternoon in Polson, the Blue Pony boys were seeing some history come to an end. At least that's the way some people saw it.
Havre's six-year reign as Class A state champions ended when the Ponies fell one point short to state champion Corvallis 20-19. Hamilton finished third with 16 points.
“It was a tough day for the kids,” Ferguson said. “They wanted to keep the streak going very badly, but we didn't play well enough on the first day to do that, and Corvallis was just deep enough to stay ahead of us.
“But I am not disappointed in anyone,” he added. “I am just disappointed for our kids because of how badly they felt at the end of the tournament. I told them after the first day of the tournament when things looked pretty bleak that we are still a great team and no matter what happens, we have had a great season. There were 12 other teams in Polson that would have loved to be as close to a state championship as we were this weekend and I am proud of every single player on our team, and proud of the season that we have had.”
As it turned out, the first day of competition in Ronan turned out to be Havre's undoing. The Ponies, who qualified eight boys for the tournament got a first-round win from senior Chase Castloo in singles and a consolation-round win from freshman Shane Kemmer, which was good enough for a total of three points. Havre's No. 2 doubles team of Ryan Kinholt and Todd Roe and its No. 3 team of Jordan Croft and David Zentmire went winless on the day. In the end, the Ponies never recovered from losing six of its eight players on the first day.
As difficult as the first day was for HHS however, Havre did have plenty to cheer about on Friday thanks to the Ponies' No. 1 doubles team of John Christian and Billy Wagner. The duo cruised to through the first three rounds of the tournament, before running into Bigfork's Joe Wolstein and Owen Roberts in the championship match.
Wagner and Christian won the first set 7-5 and dropped the second set in a tiebreaker. But in the final set, the duo showed why they are by far the best double's team in Class A as they dispatched Wolstein and Roberts 6-1, to capture the fourth-straight state title in doubles for Havre.
“John and Billy really carried us all week,” Ferguson said. “And I knew they would. I said at divisionals that I felt confident that we had the best doubles team in the state again this year and they played like it throughout the state tournament.
“I couldn't be happier for both of them,” he added. “John Christian is a kid who went from probably our eighth or ninth player on our ladder as a junior to our best player this season, and he did through hard work and dedication. And Billy is a kid who has gotten close to this kind of success before, but in the end he always had to watch his older brother stand on top of the mountain. So I am really happy for both of those guys, and as a tennis coach you always feel a little more proud when you watch to kids go out and earn a state championship like they did this season.”
The HHS boys team was decimated by graduation last year and appeared to some to be a rebuilding season. But not to Ferguson.
“I never looked at this year as a rebuilding year, because that would have demeaned the abilities of the kids on this team,” Ferguson said. “And these are great kids and great tennis players, and they accomplished a great deal this season under a tremendous amount of pressure. The winning streak could have been a burden to these kids, but instead they took it square on their shoulders and carried it all year. I couldn't be more proud of these kids and this team, and this year was far from a rebuilding year, this year was a success.”State A tennis
Corvallis 20, Havre 19, Hamilton 16, Billings Central 14, Bigfork13, Whitefish 13, Polson 11, Lewistown 9, Hardin 6, Stevensville 4, Miles City 1,Glendive 0, Livingston 0.
Championship - Roberto Maldonado, HAM, def. Collin Fehr, COR, 6-4, 6-4.
Consolation championship - Andy Dykstra, POL, def. Jordan Hatzell, BC, 6-4, 6-0.
1st Rd - Chase Castloo, HAV def. TJ Warner, COR, 6-2, 6-1; Quarterfinals - Andy Dykstra, POL def. Chase Castloo, HAV, 6-2, 6-3; LO - Ian Hosek, WF def. Chase Castloo, HAV, 7-5, 6-2; 1st Rd - Geoff Fehr, COR def. Shane Kemmer, HAV, 6-2, 6-1; LO - Shane Kemmer, HAV def. Derrick Roberts, POL, 6-2, 6-3; LO - Matt Harris, WF def. Shane Kemmer, HAV, 6-4, 6-4.
Championship - John Christian/Billy Wagner, HAV def. Joe Wolstein/Owen Roberts, BF, 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1.
Consolation Championship - Stephen Gruener/Matt Gruener, LEW, def. Izaak Opatz/Ben James, WF, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
1st Rd - Christian/Wagner, HAV def. Norby/Couch, HAR, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5); Hyde/ Passas, HAR def. Ryan Kinholt/Todd Roe, HAV, 6-4, 6-4; Robbins/Boelman, BC def. Jordan Croft/David Zentmire, HAV, 6-3, 6-2; Quarterfinals - Christian/Wagner, HAV def. Woods/Vandeberg, POL, 6-1, 6-4; Semifinals - Christian/Wagner, HAV def. McKinley/Stephens, STE, 6-3, 6-1; LO - Rottenbiller/Jacobsen, WF def. Kinholt/Roe, HAV, 6-4, 6-4; Opatz/James, WF def. Croft/Zentmire, HAV, 6-2, 6-0.
Havre 26, Whitefish 22, Dillon 18, Polson 17, Billings Central 16, Livingston 13, Glendive 4, Hardin 4, Bigfork 3, Miles City 2, Columbia Falls 1, Corvallis 1, Hamilton 0.
Championship - Danni Paulson, WF, def. Jen Orchard, POL, 6-0, 6-0.
Consolation championship - Anna Arrasmith, LIV, def. Laura Housinger, BC, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
1st Rd - Katie Mariani, HAV def. Mariah Linn, GLE, 6-3, 6-1; Cassie Hodges, HAR def. Hope Hedges, HAV, 6-4, 6-2; Quarterfinals - Jenn Orchard, POL def. Katie Mariani, HAV, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2; LO - Katie Hanson, DIL def. Hope Hedges, HAV, 6-1, 6-2; LO - Katie Mariani, HAV def. Katie Hanson, DIL, 6-1, 6-0; LO - Katie Mariani def. Trisha Smith, BF, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5); Consolation Semifinals - Laura Housinger, BC def. Katie Mariani, HAV, 6-2, 6-2.
Championship - Eve Xanthopoulos/ Theresa Bennett, DIL, def. Alexa Lipp/Karissa Olson, HAV 6-1, 6-4.
Consolation championship - Keelie Solomon/Steph Flatau, HAV, def. Zahrah Zimmerer/ Whitney Wilbert, BC, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4.
1st Rd - Solomon/Flatau, HAV def. Perkins/Bull, COR, 6-0, 6-0; Lipp/Olson, HAV def. Conwell/Sterling, HAM, 6-2, 0-6, 6-4; Xanthopolous/Bennett, DIL def. Kristi Hollingshead/Kari Gorder, HAV, 6-1, 6-1; Quarterfinals - Solomon/Flatau, HAV def. Whitaker/Beach, WF, 6-1, 6-4; Lipp/Olson, HAV def. Erickson/Fors, POL, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1; Semifinals - Lipp/Olson, HAV def. Gertiser/Hancock, LIV, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3; Xanthopolous/Bennett, DIL def. Solomon/Flatau, HAV, 6-0, 6-2; Consolation Semifinals - Solomon/Flatau, HAV def. Erickson/Fors, POL, 6-3, 6-1.